Christianity 201

September 26, 2021

“There is No Shadow of Turning with Thee”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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There are Biblical phrases which have a beauty to them in older Bible versions that some might feel gets lost in modern translations, although, if the translators are doing their jobs correctly, the meaning should stay the same.

Some may know the phrase, “There is no shadow of turning with thee;” from the scriptures (though that’s not a direct quotation) but I’m betting that more readers here — including some younger readers — know it from the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

The hymn’s title phrase is from the book of Lamentations,

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:21-23 NIV);

but the next line is from the book of James. In the KJV, which was probably the version before the hymn writer, 1:17 reads

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

The blog, An Open Orthodoxy takes the time to show us other renderings,

NLT: “He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.”
ESV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
NASB: “…with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
RSV: “…with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
RSVn: “with whom there is no variation due to a shadow of turning.”

In the Biblical Hermeneutics section of Stack Exchange, there is the same analogy that my wife suggested when we discussed this earlier today:

The ‘shadow of turning’ I can only assume to refer to a sundial, whose shadow turns as the sun moves. Or, in extension, to any object which might be used as a dial to monitor the sun’s movement ; even a tree in a field can have sticks poked around it in the ground which will, as long as clouds interfere not, tell the workers when to have a break and when to go home. ‘When the shadow reaches the eighth stick, you can go.’

But God is Light, 1 John 1:5, or, more strictly, ‘God light is’ – an equivalence in apposition.

Thus if all is bathed in light, rather than a single point-source giving illumination, there will be no shadow.

That was the first of three comments on the forum, and the third dared to get into a discussion of sunspots, but you can use the link and check that for yourself!

There was only one answer at the forum eBible,

In my opinion, James in this verse is contrasting God the Father with the movement of heavenly bodies (including the sun and moon) that exhibit differing levels of illumination, or changes in the shadows that they cast, as they “turn” (that is, as their position or appearance in relation to the earth changes).

The Father does not possess this variability. He is the “Father of lights”, and is the same from eternity past to eternity future. As such, He is a continuing source of gifts, even to the unjust … but especially to those who seek Him and His will through Christ, and to whom He is faithful in keeping His promises.

At the site, Reflections in the Word, there is a short devotional application to all this:

How can there be all that light and the earth still gets dark? It’s because the earth turns. The earth gets dark because the earth is spinning on its’ axis. Therefore, the side that faces the sun gets light and the side that is facing away does not.

If there is darkness in your life, it’s not because God, the Father of Lights is turning; it’s because you are turning. He is the Father of Lights and in Him there is no shadow. There is no darkness in Him.

Because God is faithful, He’s consistent. Just like the sun, He is always shining and in His light there is no shifting or moving shadow. We just have to make sure we are turned toward Him to experience the fullness of His Light.

At the blog, A Pilgrim’s Theology, there is a mention of 1 John 1:5: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” and Malachi 3:16 “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed; followed by,

…The literalistic but memorable turn of phrase “no … shadow of turning” used in the KJV, even if not an exact representation of the semantic equivalent of the metaphor that James uses, captures the notion of God’s faithfulness and steadiness. Given the instability of the world in which the nascent community of believers lived, the solidity and reliability of the wisdom of God was important, and the steadiness of the believers as lights is an important corollary in demonstrating that divine wisdom to the world.”

While we won’t quote it, for all the mathematics nerds reading, the blog Edge Induced Cohesion examines the verse in the light of calculus. (That one was above my pay grade!)

Going back to An Open Orthodoxy (linked above), the author offers a different perspective,

…I’d like to suggest that the point of the illustration is to make it clear that God is unlike objects which cast a shadow when held to the light of the sun because God cannot conceivably be thought to stand in the light of any reality or truth other than himself. Objects cast shadows because they are passive in relation to a source of light outside themselves which they reflect and according to which they cast a shadow, revealing their form. The only thing that can cast a shadow is that object whose substance reflects light cast upon it from a source outside itself, and its shadow is the outline of its reflected form. Its shadow shifts and changes as the object moves relative to the light. Everything on earth reflects the sun’s light in this way.

To say God “casts no shifting shadow” or that God is he “in whom there is no variation of shifting shadow” is to say (among other things) that God does not stand in the light of some measurement, that God’s reality casts no shadow because there is no reality outside God whose light or presence or truth God can be said to reflect and in reflecting reveal his form or substance, that God’s gifts do not reflect a goodness other than God.

For those who wish a new theological term for today, all of this is reflective of God’s divine impassibility.

 

 

 

 

August 21, 2021

Malformed Views of God

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? – John 14:9 NIV

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. – Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
 

Almost exactly ten years ago, while looking for something else, a copy of Your God Is Too Small by J. B. Phillips fell into my hands.  He is the same person who did the Phillips translation of The New Testament.

This 124-page pocket book is usually remembered for its first 59 pages which focus on a number of “wrong pictures” we have of God, and while I know that C201 readers would never fall into one of these errant views, I believe that we often partially fall into looking at God in one of these stereotyped forms.

Furthermore, it could be argued that many of our doctrinal distinctives resulting in various sects and denominations of Christianity have their origin in the different aspects and attributes of God’s character that were emphasized by different groups. For example, I would argue that the differences between Calvinist theology and Arminian theology have less to do with the individual doctrines, and more to do with the picture of God which gave birth to those doctrines.

(On a personal level, I would say my understanding of deconstructing faith is better expressed in terms of remodeling.)

Getting back to more basic distinctives in our God-view, here’s a quick paraphrase of the types Phillips lists:

  • Policeman — an image usually formed out of a ‘guilt-based’ response to God
  • Parental hangover — the Father image of God evokes images of an earthly father which is often more negative than positive, particularly when there was abuse or addiction in the picture
  • Grand Old Man — the head of the seniors group perhaps, or president of the service club; but the danger is the ‘old’ part if it implies irrelevance
  • Meek and Mild — an example, Phillips would argue, of a Sunday School chorus influencing theology which we might want to keep in mind when choosing modern worship pieces for weekend services
  • Absolute Perfection — which leads to us trying to be absolutely perfect even though we don’t often grasp what it means; or thinking God isn’t interested in us when we’re not perfect
  • Heavenly Bosom — a variation perhaps on burying our head in the sand; we bury ourselves in God as a kind of escapism
  • God in a Box — what I think Phillips is intending describes people whose image of God has been shaped by subjective experience in local churches or denominations; or conversely, is defined by the beliefs of his or her denomination
  • Managing Director — with an emphasis on God as “controller,” this image evokes another metaphor: puppet string God
  • Second-Hand God — a longer section; it might be summarized as variations on the God-picture we would get from having seen a single movie or read a single book about God and built everything else up from there; a situation common today where people know “just enough” about God to think they know about God
  • Perennial Grievance — whatever the God-view the person holds, this one is ever mindful of the time that God let them down them; disappointed them; etc.
  • Pale Galilean — an image Phillips uses to describe people whose faith is lacking vitality and courage; or whose loyalty is fragile
  • Projected Image — which we would describe today as “creating God in our image.”

Do you ever find yourself falling into any of these mistaken views of God?

While the terminology might not be readily used today; the book is fairly thorough about describing the full range of false views about God that can exist.  I felt led to share this here, but then needed to come up with some resolve to this.  Phillips views the first half of his book as deconstructive and follows it with a constructive second half.

With the phrase, “deconstructing my faith” being so commonly used in 2021, I think we need to recognize that what is so often happening is better described when we lessen the emphasis on the first word, “deconstructing” and place that emphasis on the second word, “my.” It’s often my version of God that needs to be deconstructed.

What I want to do here instead, is end with a quotation I’ve used before, but which I believe everyone should commit to memory. Say this out loud, placing the stress on the words in italics:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

~E. Stanley Jones

Further reading:  If you can get your hands on this out-of-print book, look for Jarrett Stevens’ The Deity Formerly Known as God (Zondervan) which is an updated version of Phillips’ classic.

If you can’t find it, get the original by Phillips, which after all these years is still in print!

 

June 17, 2021

When We Live in a Loveless World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 4:7-21

by Clarke Dixon

Does it ever seem like love is just a luxury? It would be nice to have, but . . . not happening. In buying a new car, you could have the heated and cooled leather seats, plus a high end sound system for just a few thousand dollars more. That would be nice, but . . . not happening. You are buying used anyway, so you settle for vinyl seats and am radio with 8-track. Yes, I’m old enough to remember those.

We settle for a loveless world.

Some settle for a loveless marriage, whether love is thought of as romance, commitment, or friendship. Some settle for a marriage where there is none of the above. Some settle for loveless family relationships, or work environments. Some settle for a loveless life.

Love can seem to be a luxury, nice to have, but . . . not happening. And we settle for a life without love. We settle for a loveless world.

When we follow Jesus, we don’t settle. We can’t settle. Here are a few things we do instead as found in 1st John 4:7-22.

First, we experience love from the original source of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 4:7-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

With God, love comes standard, meaning God’s love for us. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us be aware of God’s love, let us be be loved by God. We will discover that this is not a loveless world after all.

Second, we love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:7,8, 11,12,19-21 (NRSV)

With God, love comes standard, meaning our growing love for others. We think we live in a loveless world, but it won’t be loveless for long if we take the intuitive to love. If we find ourselves in a loveless marriage, a loveless family, or a loveless work environment, let’s bring the love. This cannot be a loveless world because, well, we are in it, and we are learning to love others as God loves us.

Third, we trade in our insecurities about being loved for confidence.

It is a human thing to be insecure, to think “nobody loves me.” In fact we can convince ourselves of that even when it is not true. We might think no one loves us when the truth is, we have no love for ourselves.

We have good reason to trade in our insecurities:

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (NRSV)

We have good reason to have confidence that God loves us. We are not really living the Christian life if we are constantly wondering if we will go to hell if we do this, that, or the other thing, or fail to do this, that, or the other thing. The Christian life is not a life of fear, but a life of confident living in Christ and serving in the world.

For many people, fear comes standard with religion. For the Christian, love comes standard with God. Let love be the standard, not fear.

We can be bold and fearless because God took the first step of love toward us:

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:10,19 (NRSV)

I remember well the fear I felt when I asked my wife out on our first date. I took the first step and was not sure it would go well, but she was (and is) super cute and there was no way I was not going to ask. I’m glad I did!

With God, we never take the first step. We are not the ones going to God looking for a relationship. God approached us first, we know his intentions and desire for a relationship. At the cross we see the lengths God is willing to go to for that relationship. We don’t go to God wondering, will God say yes? God has already asked you out, go ahead and give God your number already!

With God, love comes standard. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us open our eyes enough to see and experience the love God has for us. Let us trade in our insecurity and fear for confidence.

Conclusion

According to John, love is not an option in our relationship with God. Neither should we think of it as an option in our relationship with others, or ourselves.

In a world that seems so unloving, where love seems like a luxury we can’t ever have, let us love and be loved! With God, love comes standard.

(Video is available for the full sermon or it can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

May 16, 2021

The Enduring and Beloved Shepherd Psalm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Psalm 23 in The Message Bible (since most of you know it in more traditional texts)

1-3 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

From Melvin Banks at Urban Faith:

A professional speaker recited Psalm 23 and people went wild with applause. A saintly old man quoted it, no one applauded, but tears filled their eyes. What made the difference? The first speaker knew the Psalm, the second knew the shepherd.

I watched a few online church services this weekend and in one, Psalm 23 was read, or perhaps better to say quoted from memory. There are 150 Psalms, and a voice in my head asked, ‘Why this particular Psalm?’ Indeed, why is so loved through the centuries?

John Brantley writes at the blog My Sunday Sermons:

…The are two scenes in this song. One verse is a lush green field beside a refreshing stream and the other is at a noisy and busy dinner party. What do these two portents have in common and what makes them relevant for you and me?

Our culture is adopting the idea that “green” is good. This first part of the psalm is very green. Can you smell the fresh green grass? The sparkling clear water babbling by an ancient tree with broad branches and deep roots. There are other signs and smells that may be organic, but are not that green. Sheep are not known for their pleasing aroma. Every herd of animals leave a trail of processes green grass that the shepherd learns to step around. But let’s not lose the romantic and clean image just yet.

The comforting message of the first scene is the restoring and renewing experience of God. God can be trusted like sheep trust the good shepherd to provide food and drink, rest and growth. One message this psalm affirms is God’s continues to be trustworthy to provide for our growth, health and protection.

Life is not always in the green pastures. God provides even in the reality of life-threatening times. The Valley of the Shadow of Death.. might refer to an actual geographical bend in the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and it might be metaphorical of life-and-death moments that come and go in our lives.

Where is God when danger, temptation and death surround us? We want to go back to the green pastures but sometimes that is not where we are. We are in trouble. God does not keep us out of the the shadowy valleys, instead God goes with us on the journey.

We thing God ought to hear our prayers and transport us out of tragedy or trouble, but that is not what happens 99.9999 percent of the time. The songs sings of the shepherd ‘rod and staff’. The staff is the long crook of nativity fame that is for rescuing wandering sheep. The rod is to beat off the enemies of the sheep, defending not chastising the sheep.

We are familiar with the proverb, “do not spare the rod” in child rearing. If we look at the function of the rod it is not to beat the sheep, it is to protect them. If we take that function of the ‘rod’ and read that as the proverb, our children need protecting from the evil in the world. As children of God, we need God protecting us, as much now, as ever.

Think of fishing with a baseball bat? You could tie a string to one end and dangle it over the water, but that is not it’s function. You could use a fishing pole to tan-someone-hide, but that is not it’s function. The rod protects the sheep. And in this evil generation, how we need God’s protection! …

At the New Living Translation blog, Mark Taylor writes:

Psalm 23 is the best-known psalm and the favorite biblical passage of many. Why? Because it does more than tell us that God protects, guides, and blesses. It shows us a poetic image of a powerless sheep being tended by an unfailingly careful shepherd. In a world of dangerous ditches and ravenous wolves, we need more than abstract explanations. We need pictures to hang on to. This is one of the best.

God took David from tending his father’s sheep and made him a shepherd of Israel because David was able to care for this flock with a tender heart and great skill. That tells us volumes about not only the kind of shepherd God chooses but the kind of shepherd he is. God is a zealous protector of his sheep, training us to hear his voice, leading us into pleasant pastures, and even walking with us through the darkest valleys. And he is extravagant in his goodness. He doesn’t just feed us; he prepares a feast in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t just bless us; he fills our cup to overflowing. He doesn’t just offer his goodness and love; he pursues us with them. We aren’t simply his assignment; we are his passion—forever.

Several answers appear at the forum, Quora

■ Who doesn’t want somebody who has their back? We all want a big brother to keep an eye on us. In some situations, people find it to be to their advantage to buddy up to the neighborhood bully. Everybody needs somebody to lean on, right?

So, the LORD is my shepherd. That means he takes care of my food and safety. He is interested in my emotional health. He helps me make moral choices. And when times get tough, I mean really tough, life threatening tough, he sticks by me.

Psalm 23 , I believe, is a concise outline of what a person can expect if they allow God to be their Shepherd through this life. It is so amazingly concise and to the point…. a marvelous Word from God!

■ Would it not be logical to conclude that it is famous because it touches upon issues that are of deep and universal concern to human beings, that it supplies a positive perspective and solution to these issues, and that it does so in such beautiful language as we may easily believe it is divinely inspired?

It seems to me that the issue of being guided by God is the central concern of the entire Bible. Psalm 23 refers to God leading us in the paths of righteousness. And Jesus tells us (Matthew 6:33) that we should seek personal righteousness above all else. So Psalm 23 is telling us how we should respond to Jesus’ advice.

Finally, we have this answer from Texas pastor Matt Morton in a newspaper article at The Eagle. I’ve left this one to the end because if there’s one you might want to continue reading it’s this.

Even if you haven’t read the Bible very much, you are probably familiar with that line from Psalm 23. Also known as “The Shepherd Psalm,” Psalm 23 is probably the most commonly read and quoted chapter in the entire Bible. We recite it at funerals, and we read it when we feel afraid or sad. It even shows up in movies like Titanic and pop songs like Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio. A couple of years ago, Bible Gateway published a list of the 10 most searched-for Bible verses on its website. Five of the top 10 verses were from Psalm 23. I am certain that many people around the world have turned to Psalm 23 during this past month, as we’ve faced a terrifying global crisis and deep uncertainty about the future.

For centuries, Bible scholars have pondered the question of why this particular psalm is so deeply loved. Why do we return to it time and time again in the midst of crisis? After all, there are many Bible passages in which God is referred to as a shepherd. The Bible is full of reminders about how God provides for his people in the midst of uncertainty and fear. So what makes Psalm 23 so special?

I think Psalm 23 is powerful for a simple but surprising reason: the first-person singular pronouns. In case you’ve forgotten your middle-school grammar class, the first-person singular pronouns in English are “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” In other words, King David didn’t write, “The Lord is a shepherd,” or “The Lord is the shepherd,” or even, “The Lord is our shepherd.” Instead, the first verse of Psalm 23 begins with the powerful affirmation, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Psalm 23 personalizes the metaphor of God as our shepherd to a degree that no other biblical passage really does. Most of us know that shepherds provide for and protect their sheep. They lead their sheep to food and water. They fight off wild animals and bandits that threaten their sheep. The Scripture is full of imagery describing God as a good shepherd for the nation of Israel and for the world as a whole.

But it’s one thing to know that God is a good shepherd in general, and another thing entirely to know that he is my good shepherd…  [continue reading here]

March 10, 2021

God’s So-Called Cruelty Was Actually Belabored Patience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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A year ago we discovered a devotional page at Christianity.com and decided to revisit today. This article is credited to April Motl. You’re encouraged to click the title which follows and read this there and then take a moment to discover all the resources on this website which includes everything from a verse-of-the-day to Bible trivia!

Why Do People Think God Is Cruel?

If when we read the Bible, we feel concerned about God’s character because of how He dealt with people, we are wise to learn more about the people. Truth sets us free (John 8:32). We can be sure that God is not cruel. He is love.

Since the beginning, the enemy of our souls has done his best to set a wedge between people and their loving Maker.

To Eve, he intimated that God was holding out on her… if the forbidden fruit served to make her like God and He had said she couldn’t have any, then He must have foundational motives that were less than trustworthy, perhaps even cruel, to hold back from her that way.

From that moment on, it seems Satan has taken his place amongst the two of us (humans and God) to accuse us to God (remember Job? Satan’s name literally means Accuser, also see Revelation 12:10) and God to us.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

Violence in the Old Testament

When I was in seminary, I took an Old Testament history class. I was routinely stunned at the pagan practices that unfolded on the pages in history that the Bible refers to, and sometimes briefly explains, but the actuality of the events was far more graphic than Scripture detailed.

God never just smoked a people for having graven images in their entryway. People were committing X-rated, public acts with adults, but also children, and burning children alive in the public square to honor these graven images they kept in their entryways.

To be honest, I was shocked at the depth of the darkness of these rituals but also that God waited as long as He had to stop them.

If you could have been transported back in time to watch the events that led to the times in Scripture that God administered justice, you would have been screaming that He had been unjust to let it go on for so long.

But He did. He sent His prophets to speak for Him. Adjuring them to return to ways of blessing. But they didn’t. And after generations of patience, He would act.

After re-looking at all those assumptions that the God of the Old Testament was cruel and punishing, I realized how easily I can get tricked by the Enemy into accusing God in my heart.

If with some study and learning, I could see that God’s “so-called cruelty” in the Old Testament was actually belabored patience and that stopping the acts of violence and destruction was actually an act of love and protection, then it begged the question: What else had I been hasty to draw wrong conclusions about God in my own life?

There were times I had been protected, but also times I hadn’t. Times blessing flowed, and seasons of wretched aloneness and spiritual frustration. Dreams died. Prayers for desires that lined up with God’s Word came back empty. Had God been cruel then? Was He less than loving in those moments?

Was I secretly holding those experiences against God, the same way we can take the Sunday school understanding of the story of Noah’s Ark and in our hearts wonder what kind of God does stuff like that? Maybe we voice it out loud or maybe it just festers in some quiet corner of our soul in a more church “appropriate” way.

Perception Vs. Reality

I’ve had more than one relationship with an “accuser.” The sociopathic narcissistic type. It’s head-spinning awful. Up gets reported as down, in as out, and you get so twisted up inside you can’t see straight. Unfortunately, whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a relationship with the primary narcissistic Accuser.

We had one before we were even born. His words swim around us so prolifically it’s like fish swimming in water and not knowing they are wet. And he is constantly baiting us to accuse, so we can be like him, trying to twist the image of our Creator out of us, until we reflect him instead of God. And the bait to accuse God inside our hearts is easy to take.

I gave a women’s Bible study message about deception and the illustration I used was strawberry ice cream. I could pass out strawberry ice cream cups (or strawberry candies), ask everyone to taste it, and tell me what gave the ice cream its flavor.

This was some years back before most people were so aware of food industry chemicals. And everyone was sure it was strawberries. But it wasn’t strawberries. There were no real strawberries in that cheap ice cream or candy.

It was red food dye with a chemical cocktail; chemicals, that were in fact used in the making of antifreeze for your car. The fake had been swirled around until it seemed so real you could taste it and be sure it was strawberries when it wasn’t even close.

Satan does this between us and our Lord. He twists experiences we have until we aren’t sure God is trustworthy at all. Perhaps the question inside us gives birth to an all-out hostility toward God and we dare to remove Him as Judge and put ourselves in that seat to accuse God.

If we want to know who God is, we are wise not to look to the whisperings of the accuser, but to the Words of Scripture. The God of the Old Testament declared His great love over His children. The God of the New Testament showed that love more than He said it. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

He is the God who saved Rahab and made her so completely a part of His family that she is in Christ’s lineage. And the same God who met Hagar in the desert and removed shame from the woman by the well. He came to GIVE life and to BE life to us. Satan comes only to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10).

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Let’s not be unwise about his age-old schemes. God has told us in His Word who He is. If our experiences challenge that, then we ought to pray for wisdom to see our circumstances with more clarity, rather than being quick to accuse God.

I Am Who I Am

If when we read the Bible, we feel concerned about God’s character because of how He dealt with people, we are wise to learn more about the people. Truth sets us free (John 8:32). We can be sure that God is not cruel.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

He is love. But in those moments when we can’t see His love, let’s be honest about it. Let’s pray about it. Let’s seek His face about it and turn away from the bait of the enemy.


For further reading at Christianity.com:

Did God Condone Violence Found in the Old Testament?

Who Is the Father of Lies?

What Does it Mean That God Is Able?

What Does it Mean That God Is Not the Author of Confusion?

Will God Really Meet All My Needs?

What Does it Mean That God Works in Mysterious Ways?

Why Doesn’t God Heal Everyone?

January 5, 2021

God, Sin, and Successive Generations

Today we’re continuing with a theme we looked at yesterday.

Exactly one year ago we introduced you to Bible teacher Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer and her blog Grace and Peace. (Learn more about her personal story at this about page.) She’s currently offering detailed articles about the Gospel of John and also the Minor Prophets and also has a recent 3-part series about Elijah. Good reading; highly recommended! Click the title below to read this one at source.

Who Does God Punish?

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”

Isaiah 30:18


I think we call it the Fall of Humankind because the first humans were at the pinnacle of human experience, where everything was good, their relationships were healthy and filled with love, their work was satisfying and productive, their resources were ample, the world was their oyster, and their spiritual communion with God and each other was full.

Then, in a moment it seems, darkness fell from the serpent and the tree and the fruit, straight into their souls. Then, they fell, too. They fell from life to death, from glory to condemnation, joy to sorrow, harmony to conflict, satisfaction to suffering.

Here we are today, in this mess. Untold millennia later, we are still in that mess God described in Genesis 3. They fell from their great height, and it seems, ever since, their generations, including you and me, have been born down here in the rubble of their broken lives.

Genesis 2 and 3 is written with something of the sense of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories, in that, at least on one level, it explains why things are the way they are today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do see inspiration as the Holy Spirit active within the person writing. Still, the person can only write from what they otherwise know. A Stone Age author cannot speak of iron utensils, though the Spirit may give a vision of such. The best the Stone Age person might be able to do is use images and metaphors from their culture to try to describe the strange thing revealed to them.

That does make us wonder, though, about the accuracy of representation, as it is limited by current culture and language.

So, inspired, believing, but…let’s be careful about what we mean by accurate.

For instance, take a look at these two passages from the Bible, laid side-by-side.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

From our 21st Century, Western Hemisphere, Hellenized culture and education, linear thinking, fact-based logical standpoint, there seems to be an inherent fallacy here. Either God does, or does not, punish the children for the parent’s sins. Can’t have it both ways.

I do accept the dilemma as distressing. It does seem to point to inaccuracy, and even seems to be contradictory, lending some strength to the biographical, subjectively written view of scripture.

But, what if we spread out a little bit, into the context of the passages? Can we retain a more autobiographical view of scripture? What if we read back a few verses, let’s say, in Exodus 20?

Then, we discover God is talking about something very specific: the worship and reverencing of God, over and above anything/one else. If we read forward one more verse, to verse 6? We find something strange, a promise to show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love God and keep His commandments.

Trying to parse this out in a real family becomes challenging! If I love God, and follow His commandments, then He promises to show steadfast love to a thousand of my generations. But, what if my children do not love God, nor follow His commandments? Which vow will God now keep? The vow of verse 5? Or the vow of verse 6? So, there must be more going on here than contractual clauses in a covenant, even with an Biographical view.

To begin with, let’s lay the groundwork of the context.

Idols: A probable reading of this passage views idolatry as the central dysfunction of a humanist worldview. That would include, I’ll posit, anything we turn to give our lives meaning and purpose, joy and satisfaction, or even escape, that edges God out from the center. If paired with Paul’s explanation in Romans 1, then worshiping any other god than God results in futile thinking and senseless, darkened minds, claiming to be wise, but becoming fools. What kind of person would that be like? What would their home and family be like?

Jealous God: The word is qanna’ and when used of God means God’s protective love of His people.

Punishing children for the iniquity of parents

This phrase is a bit trickier. What is actually being said here is that God will “visit” the “iniquity” of the “fathers” upon the “children.” That is a little different than what “punishing” might convey.

Iniquity: The word is `avon [from Strong’s], perversity, depravity, iniquity, guilt, or punishment or consequence of/for iniquity

Fathers: The word is ‘ab [from Strong’s], father of an individual, of God as father of his people, head or founder of a household, group, family, or clan, ancestor, grandfather, forefathers — of person of people, originator or patron of a class, profession, or art, of producer, generator (fig.), of benevolence and protection (fig.), term of respect and honour, ruler or chief (spec.)

Children: The word is ben [from Strong’s], a son (as a builder of the family name), in the widest sense (of literal and figurative relationship, including grandson, subject, nation, quality or condition, etc., (like father or brother), etc.)

the thousandth generation: Again, this one is a bit tricky. The word is ‘eleph and it means a thousand as a numeral (to thousands), or as a company, such as a company of soldiers under one leader. It’s nice symmetry to say “third and fourth generation” and then to say “the thousandth generation,” but it might not mean exactly that.

I’ve underlined the meanings I have long held are intended for this text, and put together, I hear God saying,

“Do not look to anything else for your sense of meaning and purpose, for your sense of belonging, for your source of wisdom, truth, love, joy, satisfaction, or to meet your (felt and true) needs. This is idolatry, a dysfunction so profound that I will cause the consequences of it to be experienced in your whole household, every generation living there.”

To a head of household, this meant the corrupting not just of their own natures, but that of their lineage, from child to grandchild to great grandchild, all living within their compound, and under their leadership.

“If you look to Me for your source for all these things, I will amply supply through my steadfast love to all in your company, however many are in your household. (A thousand being a symbolically large number.)

To a head of household, this meant the experience of God’s steadfast love to every person, even beyond the family, to the servants and others coming within the breadth and reach of their household.

You and I experience to this day the consequences of our parents’ decisions. Addictions, alcoholism, financial decisions, where to live, what schools were chosen, family traditions, a sense of right and wrong, the list goes on and on. Those have a generational affect, for good or ill. I can well imagine how the saying God took issue with through Ezekiel came into being!

Because, it seems an untruth had seeped into the truth of what God unveiled in Exodus 20. The untruth, apparently, extrapolated God’s statement to mean that children had to pay for what their parents did, perhaps even with their lives. God cleared this up by stating in the strongest and most exhaustive terms that each person will be judged on their own merits alone, not on the merits of their parents (or anyone else).

The way I see it, there is no contradiction between these passages. Both accurately and consistently reflect the heart of God while at the same time illustrate how easy it is to misunderstand scripture, or take it to places it was never meant to go.

January 4, 2021

Justice Always Prevailed

Today’s featured author is someone I know personally, and we last shared his writing here exactly one year ago. Eric Wright is the author of both fiction and non-fiction Christian books, and is also a former missionary to Pakistan and former local church pastor. This appeared on his blog Country Inspiration. Learn more about his books at this link. Click the header below to read at source.

Where is the God of Justice?

A woman is killed by a drunken diplomat who flees so he cannot be prosecuted. A poor tenant farmer in Pakistan is cheated from his share of the crop by his landlord. “The whole of recorded history is one great longing for justice.” (Rushdoony) Atheists deny the existence of God by pointing to the apparent lack of justice in the world. They are not alone. Biblical prophets lamented the lack of justice, but without disbelieving in God. The martyrs under the throne of God cry out, “How long?”

Habakkuk complained to God, “Justice never prevails” (Hab. 1:4). Malachi wrote, Where is the God of justice?(Mal. 2:17). In Psalm 73, Asaph wrote about how his heart was grieved and embittered by the arrogance of the wicked who plan evil and scoff at heaven. “My feet had almost slipped…when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:1,2).

Asaph found an answer to his cry for justice in understanding that the wicked live in a slippery place. There is a cosmic moral law of cause and effect. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). The very first Psalm declares, “The wicked are…like chaff that the wind blows away”.

In Psalm 73 Asaph saw the terrible end of the unrepentant wicked. They face everlasting fire in hell. “The wicked shall be turned into hell. All the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17 KJV). A cursory look at history reveals that justice delayed in not justice denied. Think of the judgement of Sodom and the whole earth during the Flood. As prophesied, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all perished in terrible judgement. Think of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Papa Doc Duvalier, and on and on to this day. The fall of cruel and proud men is terrible. No one will escape the justice of God!

Not everyone reaps in this life the evil they sow. 1 Tim. 5:24 explains: the sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them”.…only to be revealed in the final judgement.

Still, we may cry out, “Why Lord do you delay your justice?” Let us learn from Asaph. After crying out to God about the prosperity of the unjust, he realized that he had missed the first step in dealing with injustice. A search for justice must begin in our own hearts.

He cried, “when my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant” (Ps. 73:21,22). He came to understand that he had failed to keep his heart pure and free from bitterness, anger and self-righteousness. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the pure in heart.” Instead of being self-righteous we need to realize that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Eccl. 7:20, KJV). That includes us.

After confessing his bitterness, Asaph remembered what he had forgotten. Although a victim of injustice, he had forgotten that, I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:23-26). The only way to live in an unjust world is to walk daily in fellowship with God. And to remember that if we have found mercy at the cross, Jesus walks with us and will never leave us. That is why he came at Christmas.

If we are to walk with God, we must understand God’s treatment of the unjust. We must remember that justice delayed is not justice denied. Delay reveals the weeping heart of God who longs to hear the repentance of the wicked in order to offer them mercy. This was Jonah’s complaint with God. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh of offer mercy, so he fled. But when he did preach in Nineveh and they repented, Jonah was angry. Why? He wanted Nineveh destroyed. He complained to God, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

Clearly, like Jonah, we need a heart change toward the unsaved even those especially unjust. In Romans 2:4-6 Paul warns people to not ignore or despise God’s patient kindness and tolerance.

Sigh. So many of our problems with life are due to our impatience. God is a holy and just God. But he is also merciful and longsuffering. We need to trust him. He alone knows the Day of Judgement.


Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright

November 29, 2020

What Does It Mean to Say God is Immutable?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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What does the word mean?

From Dictionary.com:

adjective: not mutable; unchangeable; changeless.

synonymns: immovable, inflexible, sacrosanct, enduring, abiding, changeless, ageless, constant, fixed, invariable, permanent, perpetual, stable, steadfast, unalterable, unmodifiable

From a very detailed, very researched page at the website PreceptAustin.org:

Immutability means that God is not subject to change through time or circumstances. He is invariable. In His nature and character, God is absolutely without change. In God’s essence, attributes, consciousness and will, He is unchangeable. Ponder the significance of this truth, in light of other truths about God such as “God is love.” (1Jn 4:8, 16)…

A W Tozer ..adds that “If God is self-existent, He must be also self-sufficient; and if He has power, He, being infinite, must have all power. If He possesses knowledge, His infinitude assures us that He possesses all knowledge. Similarly, His immutability presuppose His faithfulness. If He is unchanging, it follows that He could not be unfaithful, since that would require Him to change. Any failure within the divine character would argue imperfection and, since God is perfect, it could not occur. Thus the attributes explain each other and prove that they are but glimpses the mind enjoys of the absolutely perfect Godhead.” …

Where does the Bible teach this?

The website AllAboutGod.com provides the scripture references:

The Old Testament clearly states that God is immutable:

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).

“They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:26-27).

“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’” (Isaiah 46:10-11).

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6).

God is Immutable – New Testament Verses
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged” (Hebrews 6:18).

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

“He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:1-2).

Why is it Necessary that God have this Characteristic?

From the website GotQuestions.org:

…There are several logical reasons why God must be immutable, that is, why it is impossible for God to change. First, if anything changes, it must do so in some chronological order. There must be a point in time before the change and a point in time after the change. Therefore, for change to take place it must happen within the constraints of time; however, God is eternal and exists outside of the constraints of time (Psalm 33:11; 41:13; 90:2-4; John 17:5; 2 Timothy 1:9).

Second, the immutability of God is necessary for His perfection. If anything changes, it must change for the better or the worse, because a change that makes no difference is not a change. For change to take place, either something that is needed is added, which is a change for the better; or something that is needed is lost, which is a change for the worse. But, since God is perfect, He does not need anything. Therefore, He cannot change for the better. If God were to lose something, He would no longer be perfect; therefore, He cannot change for the worse.

Third, the immutability of God is related to His omniscience. When someone changes his/her mind, it is often because new information has come to light that was not previously known or because the circumstances have changed and require a different attitude or action. Because God is omniscient, He cannot learn something new that He did not already know. So, when the Bible speaks of God changing His mind, it must be understood that the circumstance or situation has changed, not God. When Exodus 32:14 and 1 Samuel 15:11-29 speak of God changing His mind, it is simply describing a change of dispensation and outward dealings toward man…

Does this mean the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament?

In many respects, this question needs to be re-framed to be a valid question, but the clue to the answer is in the last sentence of the previous answer (“a change of dispensation and outward dealings toward man.”)

Look at this way, you can’t read Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

without having passed by Hebrews 8:13

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

(Like the 8:13/13:8 thing I did there?)

Similarly, you can’t answer this question in terms of God’s core character or essence, but rather, one resolves the presumed dilemma in terms of discussing the idea that God has, with the coming of Jesus, ushered us into an era of a new covenant with humankind.

Thankfully, we get to be participants in this new covenant.

 

 

September 22, 2020

God is the Judge, But We Want to be the Jury

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we return to a devotional writer we first introduced five years ago. The site is Your Bible Quotes, and the writer is Sonya Richards. Although the page is no longer active, we visited recently and found this older article which we hope will resonate with you. There are links within the piece to other devotionals she has written.

God is The Judge But We Are Not The Jury

God is the Judge, but we are not the Jury

The Bible is a mirror, not a gavel with which you strike the bench to pass judgment on other believers. When you read the Bible are you humbly seeking to do God’s will or feverishly looking to see where others miss the mark? We all miss the mark on a daily basis, but the flesh wants to divide sins into categories and degrees of sin. Homosexuality is a sin and Christians are quick to judge that sin; however, if you bring home a pencil from work, you have stolen it and are just as culpable as a homosexual. All sin is sin and God is the judge of it all.

Because God is the judge, He is a just judge, giving not punishments that we deserve, but more grace for all who repent. We do not know what lies in the heart of another person, but we know God looks on the heart. Do not be tempted to play God.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7(NLT)

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12 (NIV)

Lawbreakers All

Our job is to keep the law, not administer it. God is the judge; we are his subjects. That is a powerful Biblical truth. Think of it this way, when we see someone breaking the law, should we arrest him? We do not have the authority to enforce the law; only policemen can do that. So instead of pulling your neighbor over and telling him he is speeding, pay attention to your own speed because the only person you can control is you. You might wish the police would catch your neighbor speeding, but you cannot even make the police pull him over. If you call the police station and tell them they should stop your neighbor for speeding, I think they would tell you that was not your concern. If you call the police station and tell them they should stop your neighbor from speeding I think they would tell you that was not your concern.

Judging another’s sin is a slippery slope because God is the judge, the Name above all names, and He says if you start pointing fingers you might call down a heavy judgment from Heaven upon yourself. There is no chance that anyone is not sinning; it’s the nature of the beast. The Bible says to forgive your enemies, and the Lord’s Prayer says “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12). That means to forgive us in the same portion that we forgive others. I’m fairly certain we do not earnestly desire that.

Throw Out a Lifeline

As a matter of a fact, instead of contemplating the depth and frequency of another’s sin, we should be on our knees praying day and night that they would come to the knowledge of their errors so as to be forgiven, rescued from death, pass into eternal life and turn to God. We know that prayer changes things.

God didn’t save you so you can gloat; He saved you so you can spread the gospel. A Christian is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

 

September 12, 2020

Our God is an … Unusual God

“Whatever your need today, when you pray, stop trying to tell God what to do and how to do it… Get out of the box of your preconceived ideas and pray again, ‘I don’t know how, when or who You are going to use, I just know You will do all that You promised.’”

~ Andy and Gina Elmes

You were waiting for that title say, “Awesome God,” weren’t you? Not “Unusual.” But today’s focus is different.

I have only two devotionals which I personally subscribe to, and one which I read online. One of the daily emails is titled “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Today’s devotional here is a highlights reel of things they’ve been sharing this month.

Don’t try and box an unusual God

Ephesians 3:20, NKJV
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.

If you want to experience all the things God has for you then you need to make the decision to let Him out of the well-constructed boxes you have tried to package Him in. The fact is, God normally always does things in Unusual Ways. Think about it, when you are believing for a miracle or a breakthrough very rarely does it come the way you anticipated or expected, right? Most often it comes in a way you never imagined or could have planned. In fact, it normally always comes when you did not expect, in a way you never thought of, and involving people you never thought would be involved – that’s God!

You see, God is not limited by, or to, our ways of doing things – but sometimes we can limit Him by trying to govern or work out how He will do what He promised He would do. The fact is when it comes to God and His promises the best thing we can do is lay aside all of our preconceived ideas and self-imagined routes and just turn our heads to heaven and say “I don’t know how, when or who You’re gonna use to do what You have promised, but I just know You will do what You have promised”, and then leave the rest to Him…

God does Unusual things

John 3:8, NKJV
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

What a great comparison! Just as you can’t govern or control what the natural wind does, neither can you control or govern what a supernatural God does. Like the wind, He is not contained or controlled by any other and blows where He chooses and when He chooses, whether it feels usual to us or not. As we considered last time, it is vital that we understand that God is an unusual God who does unusual things. But then remember, they may seem unusual to us but they are not to Him – they are simply the ways He chooses to do things. They just seem unusual to us because they were not what we expected and often go against the preconceived plans we had for how things should work out. Again remember, His ways are always better and never less.

It’s when we begin to accept this truth that we can begin to expect Him to do unusual things in our lives and the situations we face, and be blessed and amazed when He does. It’s then we can begin to experience the unlimited God “make a way where there seemed to be no way.”

Let’s face it, isn’t this a better and more enjoyable way of walking with a living God? Isn’t this more exciting than waking up every morning thinking you know everything He is going to do and how He is going to do it, only to later be again disappointed when it does not happen as you planned or pre-thought that it would? …

God’s Unusual track record

Isaiah 43:16, NKJV
Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters.

We have been spending time considering how God often does things in ways that seem unusual to us and it’s when we begin to accept that He does things in unusual ways that we can have fresh hope in situations we find ourselves; that even when it looks impossible naturally, and every road we had placed hope in has failed us, God will still do something unusual to turn it all around for our good.

Think about it: you only have to read the Bible to see God’s proven track record for doing unusual things, both in the Old Testament and the New. In the Old Testament we read of a man losing the iron axe head from his borrowed axe, and then God telling the man through the prophet to throw a stick in the water to make the axe head float! You’ll read of prophets telling military generals with leprosy to dip seven times in a dirty river to receive their miracle of new skin! Telling a widow to pour a small pot of oil out into large containers to get a miracle of provision! Everything from men being told to build enormous boats to parting un-crossable oceans with sticks. Come on, read it for yourself – these are just a few. He constantly asked people to do unusual things to get incredible outcomes.

Then we step into the New Testament and watch the ministry of the Son. In the same way, we see one unusual thing after another. He spat in the eyes of the blind, stuck his finger in the ears of the deaf, turned water into wine. He left it four days before raising a man from the dead, and sent His disciple to get tax money from the mouth of a fish! And these again are just a few of the unusual things Jesus daily did in His ministry.

Now think about it for a minute: if God did things in an unusual way in the Old Testament through the prophets, and in the New Testament through His Son, then why is He going to be any different today for us? …

God uses Unusual people

1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NIV
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

Another Unusual thing about God is that he chooses to use Unusual people. By that I mean He delights in selecting and using people to do unusual things for Him that others would not pick or even consider.

Again, think about the different people God selected and used throughout the Bible. They were often overlooked people who had hang-ups and had made mistakes. I don’t know about you, but this makes me smile because if God did not choose people this way I don’t know if I would be doing what I am for Him today. Here’s a brief handful of examples:

  • Abraham – who would choose an old man to birth a nation?
  • Jacob – who would entrust so much to a cheating liar?
  • Rahab – who would use a prostitute to help a people win a city?
  • Moses – who would use a man with a speech impediment to be the spokesman for a nation?
  • Gideon – who would use a hiding coward to lead an army?
  • David – who would pick a shepherd boy to be a king?

The list could go on and on, and when you look in the New Testament it’s the same with Jesus. The men He chose as disciples were such a random bunch of men from such different backgrounds: tax collectors, fishermen and doctors to name a few. None of them had trained at theology seminary, all had been overlooked by every other rabbi in the city. They had watched the Jewish rabbis select the men around them and had given up on thinking that a rabbi would ever want them. Then they met the greatest Rabbi, Jesus, who hand-picked them from the crowd.

Because, you see, like we see in the story of David being selected above his brothers, God does not select like natural men do. Man looks at the outward appearance whereas God looks at the heart and what He is able to do with the person through His grace…


Contact if you would like the complete text of one of these devotionals forwarded to you. Or better yet, click this link and try a free subscription.

Andy and Gina concluded this 4-part series with these words:

“Today, present your life to an unusual God, give Him everything that you are, then watch what He does with you and through you as all the glory goes back to Him. Don’t be surprised when unusual things begin to happen!”

September 6, 2020

God’s Five Senses… and Ours

by Ruth Wilkinson

Gen 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”
He created humanity in the image of God;
—male and female He created them.

It’s important to know this: He is not like us. We are like Him.

Although God is infinite, since we’re made in his image, our five senses, “tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, and breathing” can, even with our constrained reality help us begin to understand an infinite God and by beginning to understand Him, we begin to understand ourselves and what He wants from and for us.

►►Each of the reflections below ends with a question beginning “What do you want?” We can ask ourselves how God wants to inform us through those senses.


Sight

definition: to look at, observe, consider; requires distance, even objectivity

The LORD looks down from heaven;
He sees all human beings.
From His dwelling place He gazes
on all who inhabit the earth. Gen 33:13-14

The picture here is that God is observing, standing back, at a distance, aware and watching carefully, taking in what is happening in Creation.

You are the God who sees.
You stand apart and observe, your eyes witness and consider our lives.
You made us like you – with objectivity and insight.

Prayer: What do you want me to see?


Sound

definition: to hear, pay attention to; requires closeness and attention

The LORD is far from the wicked,
but He hears the prayer of the righteous. Prov 15:29

The book of Proverbs often presents contrasts; here the righteous are contrasted with the wicked. This picture goes beyond distance and detachment. God comes close. He doesn’t just know what’s going on, but is paying attention, and even doing what He’s asked.

You are the God who hears.
You come close and actively listen.
You made us like you–to silence our own voices and turn our ear toward you and each other.

Prayer: What do you want me to hear?


Taste

definition: to identify, classifying or discerning i.e. by eating

“I know you,” says the Lord. “You are neither cold nor hot….
…because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of My mouth!” Rev 3:15-16

Our picture of God expands; goes beyond observing, beyond hearing. God is discerning, identifying, judging the difference between good and bad. Healthy and poisonous. True and false…

“…For the ear tests words
as the mouth tastes food.” Job 34:2-3

You are the God who tastes.
You judge our thoughts and intentions.
You made us like you–to recognize that not everything in our hearts or in the world is loving or true.

Prayer: What do you want me to taste?


Smell

definition: to detect the presence of by inhaling; implies and requires breathing

May my prayer be set before you as incense,
my raised hands an offering. Psalm 141:2

To God, we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved
and among those who are perishing. 2 Cor 2:15

This picture goes beyond the previous senses; beyond observing, beyond listening, beyond judging. God is taking a deep breath, drawing us into Himself and finding pleasure in
• our words and gifts to him
• and to the people around us.
• the ways in which we express our love and our faith.

You are the God who breathes in our fragrance.
You absorb the gifts we give in love.
You made us like you–to inhale the goodness of the world, of each other, and of You.

Prayer: What do you want me to smell?


Touch

definition: to interact with in a physical way, especially with hands

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. Psalm 138:7

He observes, He listens, He judges, He accepts us and He gets involved. He acts. His strength and compassion engage, and interact with the world. Opposing the wrong. Saving the vulnerable.

You are the God who touches.
You create, build, defend, tear down.
You made us like you –to touch the world, uphold the good, resist the wrong, protect the vulnerable.

Prayer: What do you want me to touch?


God gives us each different gifts and priorities. If we get to know Him, we come to understand better what He calls us each to bring to the world and His Church. Take time to consider where you best can work alongside Him.

July 10, 2020

Formula-Based Thinking About God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional lands here from a search I was doing following a conversation yesterday. When I looked for “Transactional Christianity” this was the first result, but while first results aren’t always best, this one turned out to be an excellent article.

The article is Rob Grayson who was raised Pentecostal and is now Anglican. His blog is Faith Meets World. To read today’s article at its source — which we always recommend — click the header which follows.

Transactional Christianity

There’s a brand of Christianity I’ve often come across in churches and around the interwebs. I’m going to call it Transactional Christianity.

When you enter into a transaction, you pay an agreed amount and receive a predetermined item or service in return. It’s a fixed equation, backed by terms and conditions: if you pay A, you get B. And if what you get isn’t to your satisfaction, you can usually get your money back.

Many people apply this kind of formula-based thinking to God.

  • If I pray the sinner’s prayer, I’m home free for all eternity.
  • If I read the Bible dutifully and have regular “quiet times”, I can expect God to look after me.
  • If I attend church regularly, I’ll feel like I’m right with God.
  • If I give my ten percent, I’ll reap a harvest of material blessing.
  • If I regularly pray for protection over my family, I can expect perfect health.

Now this is all well and good when everything’s going according to plan and all the transactions are proceeding smoothly. But this kind of thinking has a flip side: when things don’t work out the way they’re supposed to – when something goes wrong with the transaction – we’re forced to look for an explanation. When we pray fervently for a friend to be healed but they still succumb to cancer, we’re left with questions like “Did I pray hard enough?” or “Did I have enough faith?”   Or when, in spite of our efforts to spend regular time in prayer and Bible study, we still find ourselves dry and thirsty and unable to hear God, we begin to wonder what we’ve done wrong, what sin or issue in our life is blocking our direct line to heaven.

And so it is that this very common breed of Christianity often leads to guilt and an unspoken feeling that we must be missing the mark and somehow need to do better. We know that God can be relied upon to keep his part of the bargain – that’s what it says in the terms and conditions, right? – so the problem must lie with us.

The basic problem with a transactional approach to Christianity is this: God does not conform to our notions of how He should behave, who He should bless and how, and what He should do to reward us for honouring our end of the deal. If you’re not convinced of this, read the book of Job. Allow me to summarize: in a kind of cosmic bet, God allows satan to afflict his faithful servant Job, destroying his livelihood, his family and his health. This is surely enough to cause anyone to question what they’ve done to deserve such an accumulation of ill fortune. While Job sits in the dust lamenting his fate, three of His friends attempt to comfort him by offering explanations as to why all this has happened. They become increasingly insistent that Job must have sinned, and that he needs to identify and confess his sin – for in their transactional view of the world, God always punishes the sinful and rewards the righteous, no exceptions allowed. Job remains perplexed; he’s confident that he hasn’t sinned, and he can’t understand why God would punish him so.

After 35 chapters of questions and attempted explanations, God finally answers Job “from the whirlwind”:

“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.

Where were you when I lay the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.”

(Job 38:2-4, New Living Translation)

For the next two chapters (and, following a brief response from Job, another chapter after that), God continues with a spectacular account of His unfathomable power and wisdom, all in the form of pointed questions directed at Job. At the end of this divine onslaught, and with the benefit of all the well-intentioned advice from his friends, what conclusion does Job reach?

“I am nothing – how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say.” (Job 40:4-5)

Simply put, our attempts to fit God into a transactional mould will not work. The God who spoke the universe into being, who knows the stars and the sparrows by name, and who upholds the universe by the word of His power will not be reduced to an equation or a formula. If your concept of God tells you that He will always deliver A as long as you do B, then I humbly suggest you need to go back to the Bible with an open mind and ask yourself whether the magnificent, untameable God you find in its pages is really so easy to fit into such a small, well-constructed and tidy box.

I think C. S. Lewis says it best in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Mr. Beaver is telling young Lucy and Susan about Aslan, the great lion:

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

[…]

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver. […] “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I don’t want a God who is at my beck and call and who can safely be relied upon to return the right result as long as I keep my part of the bargain. I want the lion, the great “I am”, the alpha and the omega, the God who is wild and free and who does whatever He pleases. That’s the God I find in the pages of the Bible. When I try to force God into a box, the god I end up with is no greater than my own logic. No: give me the God who can’t be pinned down. He may not always feel safe, but I certainly know I can trust in His goodness.


You’re also encouraged to click the link in the article title to read the comments this generated when first published in 2013. Or here.



Unrelated extra:

A friend of ours has launched a new project. The blog, Charismatic Scholarship, exists to promote the teachings of Christian academics and scholars who believe that the gifts of Holy Spirit mentioned in the New Testament have continued to this day; that those gifts have not ceased. The blog launched with a six-part interview with Craig Keener.

June 19, 2020

A Father to the Fatherless

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm 68:5 (NIV)

Related scriptures from BibleHub.com

But You have regarded trouble and grief; You consider it to take in hand. The victim entrusts himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless.
 – Psalm 10:14

The LORD protects the sojourners; He sustains the fatherless and the widow, but the ways of the wicked He frustrates.
 – Psalm 146:9

He executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and He loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.
 – Deuteronomy 10:18

Often I will add a video to the end of a devotional, but today, with Father’s Day fast approaching, I discovered that a powerful song which I have known for years and even taught in churches, has never been posted here. So today we worked backwards from Graham Kendrick’s song, Father Me (O Father of the Fatherless.)

Barbara Curtis wrote that, “Like many American kids, I never really had anyone to buy a card for.”  She continues,

…The truth is that fatherlessness hurts. I grew up feeling different and “less than”-all those uncomfortable feelings we try to spare fatherless kids today. Still, I would never endorse the current “cure” of teaching children that dads are optional. It was knowing that a mother/father/children family was best that eventually led me to have the commitment to work together with my husband to build one of our own…

…Just as we need an earthly father, we need our Heavenly one-in a strong and personal way. I will never forget the first time I heard that I really did have a Father. I was 38 years old and just beginning to pull the raggedy pieces of my life together. After years of mistakes and regrets, of looking for love and affirmation in all the wrong places, of trying to fill the hole in my heart, I was someone’s little girl. I could feel His love. I could trust in His forgiveness and mercy. I was His forever.

Is it not a miracle that someone who missed an earthly father’s love can be healed to receive the love of the Heavenly Father? But isn’t He Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals? Doesn’t the Bible say He came to bind the brokenhearted, set the captives free, and release prisoners from darkness? Didn’t He say we could come to Him as children? And isn’t it the greatest privilege of all to call him “Abba, Father”-just as children call their fathers “Daddy”? …

At the website, Got Questions? we read:

…Of all the ways the Lord God Almighty could have chosen to relate to humanity, He chose the language of family. He could have described Himself as a benevolent dictator, kind boss, or patient landlord. But instead, He chose the word father.

He presents Himself as a Father because we all know what a father is and does. Even if we did not have earthly fathers who treated us well, we have an intrinsic understanding of what a good father should be. God planted that understanding in our hearts. We all have a need to be loved, cherished, protected, and valued. Ideally, an earthly father will meet those needs. But even if he doesn’t, God will…

Charles Stanley shared this last year at InTouch Ministries:

…From the very beginning, God has shown Himself to be a loving parent, but it is only through Christ that we’ve inherited the privilege to call the Him “our Father” (Gal. 4:4-7*). The New Testament gives witness to Christ’s revelation of the wonderful relationship we can have with our heavenly Father: The name appears 245 times—over 100 times in John’s gospel alone. Paul opens each of his letters acknowledging God as our Father. The fact that man could know God as the perfect parent was a radical new idea in Jesus’ time, and it continues to be a life-impacting truth today

Leigh Powers writes,

…As children of the Father, we are called to reflect our Father’s heart. We are still called to care for the vulnerable and dispossessed–making room for those who society has rejected around the banquet table. Orphans, refugees, widows, the homeless, prisoners, the terminally ill–the list goes on. But when we extend hospitality, lift our voices for justice, and reach out in compassion, we demonstrate God’s faithful love. There is room in God’s family for all who will come. Will you invite others to find the welcome of our father’s love?

A Prayer (Max Lucado):

Dear God; today remind me today that you protect me. Be my father and defender. Defend those who’re weak and afraid and feel forgotten. Show up in their lives today. Thank you for giving me a spiritual family that can never be taken away. I pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Graham Kendrick:

Father Me – A Father’s Day Worship Song


* NLT.Gal.4.4 But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

May 19, 2020

The God Who Touches Lepers

Melody has creating devotional writing at In Pleasant Places since January, 2013. This is her 5th time being highlighted here. Her blog started somewhat organically from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explains in her story. To read this at her blog, click the header below.

Powerful Healing, Compassionate Love – Isaiah 53:4-5

“Surely He has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows…
Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with His stripes we are healed.”

Isaiah 53:4-5

I read these words by Charles Spurgeon this morning:

“What a mass of hideous sickness must have thrust itself under the eye of Jesus! Yet we read not that He was disgusted, but patiently waited on every case… Whatever my own case may be, the beloved Physician can heal me; and whatever may be the state of others whom I may remember at this moment in prayer, I may have hope in Jesus that He will be able to heal them of their sins.”

This is the example the disciples witnessed. Jesus, with compassion and care for all. Not repulsed. Not hesitant or intimidated. Instead, He was welcoming and patient. Demonstrating that there is no lost cause; He can heal all who come to Him. A powerful physical demonstration of His ability to heal, cleanse, and restore, pointing to His greater healing of the soul for all who believe in Him.

No sin is too great, too dark, too ongoing. He cleanses all.

That’s what He died for.

And He meets us with the same compassion regardless of how dirty, shameful, and unworthy we feel – just as He met the high priest in Zechariah’s vision, rebuking his accuser, removing his iniquity (taking it on Himself ultimately on the cross), and clothing him in pure garments (Zechariah 3:1-4).

As Jesus reached out His hand to touch the leper (Luke 5:11-13), He reaches out His hand to touch and cleanse us. To pull us out of the mire and give us a new song to sing (Psalm 40:1-3). To change our lives because we are delivered into His kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13-14), freed to know Him in relationship and experience His grace in obedience. Freed to love and serve Him, walking in the newness of abundant life. With strength and peace, joy and steadfast hope.

When we are freed, may we never forget the greatness of His salvation, the depth and depravity of sin He saves us from, or our continual need of His mercy and grace – and His ability and ready willingness to meet that need (Hebrews 4:16).

May we never look at others’ chains and sicknesses with disgust, but as our Savior does – with compassion. With love. Reaching out to meet them where they are, and gently sharing our experience of a God who loves them enough to die for them, a God who will not shame them, a God who stands with ready open arms to assure them, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4).

Fellow believers, let us not be repulsed.

Let us not shame.

Let us not cast down.

Rather, let us reach out to love.

Let us listen.

Let us share of the Father’s great love and mercy, manifested on the cross of Jesus and extended very personally to those He puts in our path.

Let us share this not to change them, but to introduce them to the living God of love, hope, peace, and freedom. For each precious one who believes in Him, He will draw them out of the mire into His light. He will free them from their sin. We bring others to Jesus in love and compassion; His Spirit does the rest, just as He continues His work to free us from our sin. A work that He will bring to completion for all who are His (Philippians 1:6).

Because His healing work is that powerful and His love for us is that great.

“I waited patiently for the LORD;
He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.”
Psalm 40:1-3


May 4, 2020

The Book of Job and Worship Song Theology

If today is controversial to some of you, remember this is Christianity 201, not 101, and look at it on that basis.

Earlier today I was preparing a response to a friend concerning the Matt Redman song, “Blessed be the Name” which contains the line, “You give and take away.”

In checking what others have written on this, I came across the blog of former pastor Dr. Paul Ellis who lives in his native Australia currently, and has also resided in Asia and California. His site is called Escape to Reality (or E2R.) There were a number of more recent articles, but on discovering that we’ve only covered this once here (rather superficially in 2011) I decided to share with you the piece which got my attention earlier this morning.

As always, send some traffic to our contributors by clicking on the header which follows.

Does God Give and Take Away?

The entire Bible is good for you, but you won’t get much out of it unless you know Jesus Christ. To understand the written word, you need to know the Living Word. Try to read the Bible without an appreciation of Jesus – who he is and what he has done – you may end up taking someone else’s medicine. Some verses will appear to contradict others and you will get confused.

In the first part of this study on God’s gifts, we looked at a sincere lady in the Bible who mistakenly believed that God gives us bad gifts like death and poverty. Today I want to look at a man who had a different problem. He believed that God gives us good gifts only to take them away again. You can probably guess that I’m talking about Job. Job had this one really bad week when his livestock were stolen, his servants were slain, and his kids were killed when a house fell on them. For some reason, Job thought God was behind his loss for he said:

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21)

If there was ever a scripture that has led to some screwy notions about God’s character, it’s this one. Anyone who has suffered loss has probably heard this verse. It’s quoted at funerals. We sing songs about it. For some strange reason people seem to find comfort in believing that God is responsible for their loss.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love Job’s attitude. He’s saying that whatever happens in life, he’s going to praise the name of the Lord. But Job said some dumb things about God. Later on Job would come to regret his choice of words. “I spoke of things I did not understand” (Job 42:3).

The question stands: Does God give and take away?

Any picture we have of God needs to be informed by Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:3). To get a good understanding of God’s character, we need to look to Jesus, not Job. Can you imagine Jesus stealing or killing? Of course not. So how is it that some people think that God was responsible for Job’s loss?

“But Paul, it’s in the Bible, it’s right there in black and white.” Let me put it to you like this. If you want the very best insight into God’s character, are you better off looking at:

(a)    Jesus, who said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), or
(b)    Job, who had only heard of God but did not actually know him  (see Job 42:5)?

Jesus is the better choice! Jesus came to reveal God the Great Giver. Have you been given something good? Then see God as your source:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (Jas 1:17)

Who’s robbing you?

But what if you have suffered loss, like Job? He lost his health, his wealth, and his family. The temptation may be to blame God for your loss, as if God had a change of heart. But God is not fickle. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is an extraordinary giver who never takes back his gifts.

God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never canceled, never rescinded. (Romans 11:29, MSG)

So if God is doing the giving, who is doing the taking? Again, Jesus provides the answer:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

We ought not to be confused about these two different roles. One is a giver, the other is a taker. If you have been given something good, give thanks to God. But if you’ve been robbed, don’t blame God. He’s not behind your loss. And Satan is not his sheepdog.

Humans are spectacularly slow learners. From the beginning of human history the devil has been trying to steal or ruin everything God gave us and yet there are still some who think that God is the thief. God gave us authority over a planet and the devil took it. God gave us freedom and the devil somehow got us to choose the way of slavery. God gave us eternal life, health and glory, and we lost it all. But thank God for Jesus who took back what the devil stole.

Karma versus grace

If you think that God gives and takes away, you’ve missed the point of Jesus. Jesus came to reveal a generous Father and to destroy the work of the thief (1 John 3:8). Jesus came that we might have life to the full, not to the half.

If you think God gives and takes away, you have more faith in karma than grace. Karma says what goes around comes around. If you’re healthy now, you’ll be sick tomorrow. If you’re prospering now, poverty’s waiting around the next corner. When disappointments and hardships come, you won’t be surprised. You’ll just throw in the towel and say, “I knew it was too good to last.”

The world works according to the principle of give and take, but God just gives. The only thing he’ll take off you – if you let him – is your sin, your shame, your sickness, your worries, and your fears. He takes away those things that harm us and gives us good things that bless us.

Are you Job or David?

Both Job and David were robbed. Both were greatly distressed and surrounded by foolish men who gave bad advice. But unlike Job, David did a Jesusy-thing and took back what was stolen. Why did David fight back when Job quit? Because David “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam 30:6). In his pain David considered God’s goodness and realized that God was not behind his loss. He understood that it was not God’s will for him to suffer and, so strengthened, he fought back and prevailed.

I wish I could go back in time and get to Job before his friends did. I would say, “God didn’t kill your kids! He didn’t steal your livestock and make you sick. You’ve been robbed! The devil is having a go at you. Don’t sit there in the ashes and cry about it, get up and fight! Are you a victor or a victim?”

The church will never see victory if we think God is behind our suffering. If we think God is robbing us we won’t even resist. We’ll let the devil waltz in and plunder our families all the while singing “He gives and takes away.”

Funny, but I can’t imagine Jesus or David doing that.

 

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